No Mayan Prophecy Doomsday in 2012 (Sorry)

A Mayan pyramid, but did the Mayans really forecast doomsday?

(Update: It seems people agree with my 2012 article and it hit the front page of Digg just before 1am (GMT) on Wednesday. Join the fun!)

The Mayan Prophecy seems to predict the end of the world, or at least a large potion of humans on Earth. As a race we appear to have side-stepped many previous doomsday events in the past (how can you forget the crazed predictions of the Y2K bug), so what makes December 21st 2012 so special? Why is it going to be this date that will kill us all off? Actually, and I doubt this will surprise all the level-headed thinkers out there, there is very little evidence that anything will happen on that date. I can’t really talk for the predictions that there will be nuclear Armageddon, a plague outbreak or an ultra-credit crunch, but as far as any astro-threats are concerned, I have good news (we’re in the clear)…
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Aliens More Likely to Pick Up Our NEO Radar Transmissions than Radio

Radar emissions - lighting up the night sky (Ian O'Neill)

When you stop to think about it, sending transmissions via radio into space in the hope to contact aliens is a bit silly. The intention behind the 16 transmission we have directed into space is to a) make contact with extraterrestrials, b) advertise our presence in the cosmos, and c) tell ET something useful about mankind. We know we are leaking transmissions into space all the time (i.e. radio and TV), but we assume they don’t travel that far or are too weak for aliens to detect. But wait one second… We are constantly blasting radar into space, tracking near earth asteroids; will aliens pick up those transmissions? Well, these radar transmissions have covered 2000 times more sky than radio and last 500 times longer. And since the 1960’s we’ve sent 1400 radar transmissions into space. So, what’s the verdict? Aliens are one million times more likely to receive the tracking signal from NEO tracking radar than radar intended for aliens…
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LHC Worries are Based on Fear of the Unknown, not Science

The construction of the LHC is nearing completion, exciting or worrying? (AP)
The construction of the LHC is nearing completion, exciting or worrying? (AP)

I’ve heard some crazy talk in my time, but the fear surrounding the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN has really surprised me. On writing a story last month that a guy in Hawaii (with a scant background in physics) was trying to pass a lawsuit to put a stop to the construction of the LHC, I realised the pressures physicists at the cutting edge of science are under. Physicists the world over have defended the science behind the LHC, and although some of the products from high energy particle collisions are as yet unknown, there is an infinitesimal chance that a black hole will swallow Earth… (I actually want a black hole to be created, the scientific implications will be revolutionary.)
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UK Physics and Astronomy in Danger

Color composite adaptive optics image of the planetary nebula M2-9 using the ALTAIR adaptive optics system on Gemini North. Image credit: Gemini Observatory/Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage

My true aim for is to post advanced (but interesting) space physics concepts on an informal stage. But when news like this comes along, I feel compelled to say something. In a nutshell, the UK physics and astronomy community has been hit with a series of harsh and ill thought-out budget cutbacks in recent years. Things have gotten worse since April 2007 (when the two main research councils PPARC and CCLRC merged) when all UK physics and astronomy funding started being managed by The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). It would appear the main focus is to find ways to plug the £80 million funding deficit it has inherited and not to find ways to protect research projects.

So, physics and astronomy in the UK is facing cutbacks on a scale that defies intelligence. Why is a nation, as scientifically gifted as the UK, making cutbacks to research that will shape the most exciting era of science mankind has ever seen?
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